On September 21st 2017 heavy restrictions under the REACH directive were placed on the use of any coating/plating which utilises Hexavalent Chromium (CR6). This means that many traditional metal finishing options will no longer be available and penalties may come into effect for those companies carrying out the process without authorisation.
What is REACH?
REACH stands for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals, it is a directive aimed at providing a high level protection of both human health and the environment from potentially harmful chemicals. This directive has been in place since 2007 across the EU.
Why is Hexavalent Chromium on the banned list?
Hexavalent Chromium is included within REACH because it is the most toxic form of chromium. It is a known human carcinogen, and the toxic waste produced from the Hexavalent Chromium bath during electroplating is deemed a hazardous waste material. It is included in the list of chemicals that have been identified as substances of very high concern, the use of which is restricted and can only be used under strict authorisation.
What are the health hazards of Cr6?
Hexavalent Chromium presents serious health risks. Repeated exposure to the substance can have significant concerns including: damage to the nose and eyes, skin irritation, inflammation of the lungs, kidney damage as well as cancer of the lung. (source HSE.org.uk)
Why hasn’t Cr6 been banned earlier?
Hexavalent Chromium is used in a wide number of applications across industries in order to prolong the life of components. Although various new processes have been developed over the last 15 years, the widespread use of Cr6 has meant that restrictions have been met with heavy resistance. Cr6 was first placed on the REACH in 2014 and has been undergoing consultation ever since. The substance is more or less banned in America and is considered a ‘dead technology.’
What processes are affected?
Any number of coatings/plating that have Chromium at their core may be affected. This includes Zinc Plating which is usually carried out in conjunction with a Chromate Passivation process. Other processes would include Chromate Conversions such as Chromate Acid Anodising, Alocrom 100 and 1200. The more obvious processes that will be affected are Decorative and Hard Chrome Plating.
Who will be affected? What are the penalties?
These changes will have a big impact for any business which has their own plating line that uses Hexavalent Chromium or currently uses processes such as Hard Chrome Plating. From the 21st of September 2017, only authorised firms will be able to carry out these processes. In the UK, failure to comply with REACH constitute a criminal offence. The level of penalty imposed will depend upon where the case is heard. In ‘lower’ courts (eg Magistrates Court) a fine of up to £5000 and/or up to 3 months imprisonment may be given. In ‘higher’ court (eg Crown Courts) an unlimited fine and/or up to 2 years imprisonment may be given. (Source: hse.org.uk)
What should you do?
If you are currently a Plater, and are unsure what steps to take and what processes you can offer, it would be a good idea to seek advice from organisations such as SEA and IMF about your continued use of these processes and what you need to do in order to be compliant.
If you are an OEM or design manufacturer then it is a good idea to start thinking about alternative processes to use on your products. Seek advice from your local plater on which alternative process may be right for your application. In many cases you may have already noticed that your plater is no longer using hexavalent based processes, be sure to ask them for more information on the change and expected differences in performance.
Where you have high wear and high corrosion environments then one suitable alternative might be coatings applied through HVOF. These are coatings B&B supply and are widely considered to be an alternative to Hard Chrome Plating. If you’d like more information of REACH compliant metal finishing for high wear applications then please send through your drawing to email@example.com or call 01484866386.